Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : August 2006

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Sitting Judges Face Challengers in Five Circuits in September Primary

~Most incumbents commit to MDJCCC standards; most challengers do not~

In Maryland's September primary election, contested judicial elections will take place in five judicial circuits. On September 12, sitting judges will face challengers in the second, third, fifth, seventh and eighth judicial circuits; only those in the first, fourth and sixth circuits face no contenders in the primary. To date, judicial campaigning for Maryland's primary has been conducted in a professional manner, and some of the credit for the prevailing civility goes to the Maryland Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee's "Standards for the Conduct of Contested Judicial Elections."

Contested judicial elections are gaining momentum across the country, as 80 percent of state judges now face some type of election, according to the American Bar Association. In Maryland, only circuit court judges must stand for contested elections. As the number of contested judicial elections escalates, so does their contentiousness.

Thus, 14 states, including Maryland, have created judicial campaign-oversight groups. These voluntary citizen committees monitor judicial elections to preserve the Judiciary's reputation for fairness and impartiality and generate public respect for a judge's role, integrity and objectivity. Many have created Standards for the Conduct of Contested Judicial Elections and asked judicial candidates to commit to them in writing. In Maryland, most sitting judges have agreed to abide by the "Standards for the Conduct of Contested Judicial Elections" issued by Maryland's Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee, while only three contenders have made this commitment.

To foster civility and dignity in the conduct of Maryland's judicial elections, the Honorable Robert M. Bell, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, created the Maryland Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee (MDJCCC) in May 2006. MDJCCC, co-chaired by former United States Attorney George Beall and former Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, is a volunteer, diverse, representative and bi-partisan group of Maryland citizens with no formal authority. Its goal is to ensure that Maryland judicial elections are conducted in a manner that promotes respect for the integrity and legitimacy of the bench.

"Our role is to establish standards for the conduct of contested judicial elections in the state, respond to complaints about violations of the standards and encourage contestants to agree to abide by them," states Sachs.

MDJCCC also educates judicial candidates about appropriate campaign conduct, and criticizes inappropriate and improper judicial campaign conduct that occurs.

Its credo is simple: "Judicial elections are different." MDJCCC's thrust is to ensure, through public education, that Maryland judicial elections are conducted in a civil manner. Through public education, MDJCCC is conveying the message that "judges represent the law. Judges have a unique role, so judicial candidates must be held to a higher standard than candidates for other elective offices."

Most Incumbents Commit to Standards Most Challengers Do Not

In May, MDJCCC developed a set of "Standards for the Conduct of Contested Judicial Elections" and asked all candidates, challengers and incumbents to commit to these Standards and pledge, in writing, to abide by them in their campaigns. The Standards (see below), which reflect civility and dignity, may be found at

MDJCCC has publicly identified candidates who have agreed to this pledge (see right). As noted above, it is largely the challengers in Maryland's judicial contested elections who are not offering their support of MDJCCC's civility Standards.

The Committee also reviews complaints alleging violations of the Standards. Complaints have been few in the 2006 primary for judicial contested elections, with only one contender attracting attention for "misleading advertising," and several other minor ones regardint the placement of election signs. Where appropriate, MDJCCC has made further inquiry to determine whether the challenged conduct comports with the letter and the spirit of the Standards. Where appropriate, it refers specific allegations to the Judicial Ethics Committee of the Attorney Grievance Commission.

MDJCCC Co-Chair Stephen Sachs "hopes judicial candidates' awareness of MDJCCC is enough to temper unsuitable and uncivil conduct during judicial campaigning." Given the civility in this year's judicial campaigning, MDJCCC's thrust seems to be effective.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: August 2006

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